Hawaii…its all about the beaches. One of the allures of a Hawaiian vacation is the ocean and a nice, warm, sandy beach. The thing is that the big island seems to be lacking in big, sweeping expanses of sandy beaches, at least compared to some of the other islands such as Oahu or Maui. On the big island, you have to seek them out as many of the beaches are rocky.
My wife and I are explores at heart, so when we planned a trip to the big island with our 6-year-old and 2-year-old sons, we tried to select some places that we could go that would minimize our time in the car, satisfy our need for an adventure, and offer up a memorable experience for our boys as well as for ourselves.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, seemed to fit that bill. It is about an hour and a half drive south from Kailua-Kona. The key to making the most out of any trip with kids in tow, which entails being in the car for more than an hour or so, is to plan other activities around your main destination. The black sand beach is perfect to add in to a day trip to the volcano which was our original plan, however, we changed things up regularly, never wanting to have a set agenda. For us, we strategically planned our day with our kids in mind but also included some activities that we enjoyed as well.
We started our day early, hitting the Kona Farmers Market to grab a bunch of apple bananas (our boys ate a bunch a day!) and a couple strawberry papayas, then headed to Kahalu’u Beach (which I will cover in a later post) for some morning snorkeling. The snorkeling is a bit self-indulgent for my wife and I, but the point is that it gets some of the boys’ wiggles out. They get to swim, snorkel, and play on the beach, and feel like the morning was all for them. Top it off with a Hawaiian shave ice, and the kids are ready to get back in the car.
For a bit more self-indulgence along the way, we stopped off at one of the many coffee plantations south of Kailua-Kona. Most of them offer tours, some of them have a cafe’ serving, you guessed it, coffee drinks, and in some cases, even food. Kona Joe’s, for example, is a great little pit stop. We grabbed some ice coffee’s for the road, and a MacNut chocolate chip brownie with ice-cream for the boys. Everyone was happy (read; no complaining!)
A little aside here; I am not a coffee drinker. I have never, nor do I now, like coffee. That said, the coffee in Kona is exceptional. I had several iced coffee’s on our vacation and really enjoyed them. I have had a few ice coffee’s since returning to the mainland, hoping to recapture a taste of Kona, and have been disappointed every time: Proof — everything just tastes better in Hawaii.
About the time I finished my ice coffee, we found the sign on the highway pointing to the turn off at Punalu’u. Follow this road to the end as the signs are not very clear; the road dead ends into the parking lot for the beach.
There are a few things that makes this beach special. First would be the black sand of course. The sand itself is slightly on the coarse side but feels soft and almost therapeutic as you walk on it. We were concerned that the black sand would be very hot, too hot to walk on, however, we purposely planned to arrive early afternoon, knowing that the clouds would roll in by then and the sun might not be beating down directly on the sand making it too hot to walk on. Our gamble paid off and we found the sand to be pleasantly warm.
The second, and one of the best reasons to visit Punalu’u is the sea turtles. This is a favorite beach for the Honu — Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles and apparently they frequent this beach, so much so that they have a resting area sectioned off for the turtles, a sign asking you not to touch them and to stay 10 feet away, and a person standing by to enforce the rules and answer questions about the turtles.
The contrast of the black sand against the surrounding greenery of coconut palms and green undergrowth on one side and the blue ocean on the other, is stunning. The turtles were an amazing sight as well. There were always three to five resting on the beach during our 4 hour visit, with another few turtles playing in the surf and eating moss from the rocks along the shore.
The water was a bit rough but there were a handful of brave souls swimming and snorkeling off the beach. It was fairly breeze during our visit but it was pleasant. Our boys were perfectly content building sand castles in the black sand, watching the turtles, and playing in the surf.
Punalu’u is a must do when on the big island if you like sea turtles and want to experience the black sand. There are facilities here, but not any places near by that offer food, or at least any that we saw. Pack a lunch, bring some drinks, and plan another adventure to fill the day.
We made a top 20 list of things to do while in Hawaii, and this was near the top of the list. We reevaluated our list on a daily basis, and eliminated several items as the week unfolded. After all was said and done, we were happy that we spent the time in the car to experience this beach.
Parking is free, entering the beach is free, and our only cost was fuel for the car, iced coffee for the adults, and a few treats for the kids. — Aloha!